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This essay interrogates the role of beauty in the visual field. Solomon-Godeau begins with a consideration of beauty as employed in art criticism, psychoanalysis, and photography. Using nineteenth-century nude photographs made by the Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden and his cousin Wilhelm Pluschow as examples, Solomon-Godeau investigates how the depiction of bodies “require coding and inscription in ways that signal not just the difference between various representations of the human body but difference itself and its inherent erotic significance.” As Solomon-Godeau argues, the circuits of desire are shaped not just by aesthetic contemplation and individual sexual desire, but by wider systems of power such as colonialism, and that such representations require forms of “supplemental coding if they are to be intelligible.” Following from this acknowledgment, she examines these codes as they function to mark bodies and subjects according to their status as objects of desire, abjection, and subjection, and as specimens or fetishes.

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